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Azio Mini Thumb Keyboard

With the boundaries of TV and Web ever blurring, more and more folks are realizing that they need a keyboard to interact with their television screen. This is especially true for those who watch Hulu and Netflix content streamed to their large-screen LCD TVinstead of on the computer’s smaller monitor. Last July, we took a FirstLook at the tiny Magic-Pro keyboard. The Magic-Pro is tiny and has backlighting for use in the dark. It was a good solution as long as you don’t mind the miniature keys. Today, we are going to take a look at a couple of slightly bigger alternatives from Azio.

Readers may remember Azio as the source of the low-cost alternative to the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. Azio has been getting some traction as a maker of quality multimedia-friendly wireless keyboards for home theater enthusiasts. We thought readers would be interested in taking a closer look at two of their specialty keyboards and see what all the fuss is about.

The two keyboards are the Azio KB351RT and the Azio KB178RT. Both are smaller and lower in profile than the typical desktop keyboard. There are mouse buttons on the left and an integrated track ball on the right. Both units also have dedicated multimedia keys (Home, Back, Play/Pause, etc.). The keyboards are wireless and communicate with the computer via a 2.4GHz radio (not Bluetooth) frequency receiver which fits into a standard USB port.

The bigger of the two Azios is the KB351RT, but we found that the smaller KB178RT is better choice for home-theater use. Unlike its bigger brother, the KB178RT is sized for those who like to/can type using their thumbs. Since we usually don’t have to type much while interacting with sites like Hulu and Netflix, thumb-typing is actually a good way to enter any required text (ie: movie titles in the search field). We found the trackball to be easier to use than the Magic-Pro’s trackpad because we didn’t have to hold the keyboard in one hand and manipulate the cursor with the other. We could just move the trackball with the thumb while grabbing the keyboard.

The multimedia keys (volume control, play, fast-forward, rewind, etc…) are a great way to interact with QuickTime players and other such applications. Azio packed a lot into these two little keyboards. So what else would we want in a multimedia keyboard? How about integrating TV remote control capabilities into the keyboard so we don’t have to switch to the TV remote for the typical AV functions (volume, on/off, etc…)? Now that would be pretty cool!

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